Experts support artificial intelligence in aged care but warn to tread carefully

Last updated on 28 March 2024

AI-based software can help improve efficiencies in aged care, but it should be adopted thoughtfully. [Source: Shutterstock]

Aged care providers looking to adopt artificial intelligence-based systems should start small and take their time to trial new programs, according to advice passed on by technology leaders from Uniting NSW/ACT and Microsoft.

Key points

  • Last week, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission hosted a webinar titled The role of artificial intelligence and emerging productivity tools in aged care
  • Participants including Uniting NSW.ACT’s Chief Digital Information Officer, Andrew Dome, spoke of their positive experiences with introducing AI programs into their online systems
  • Experts warned to tread carefully where private resident and consumer data is concerned, but they did predict a future where AI helps with resident management
  • Humans will not be replaced by AI, however, it can provide plenty of workforce efficiency benefits

Artificial intelligence (AI) is viewed as one of the most impactful tools for the modern era, and it’s already made its way into many aged care homes in the form of technology that monitors residents or robots that interact with them

At Uniting NSW.ACT, however, Mr Dome shared how they have adopted AI technology to save employees time when searching for answers regarding workplace policies and procedures. 

He said this often time-consuming task was a top issue for thousands of employees. Therefore, they created a platform called U-Chat, similar to Chat GPT, where employees can type their questions and receive almost instantaneous feedback directly from internal databases.

“We think it’s quite exciting because finding that policy or procedure could have taken our employee 15-20 minutes. Now they’re getting that response within two or three seconds,” Mr Dome explained. 

“We can turn that experience into [one that lasts] 30 seconds to a minute and then they can move on. That’s time back in the day for the human services part of aged care […] it gives that time back to our employees to provide aged care services to our customers.”

Additionally, Mr Dome said AI will complement his workforce’s capabilities over the coming years, including some direct care elements such as resident management or care planning. This will help give employees more time for meaningful work, helping to attract and retain skilled workers. 

“There’s a real opportunity for things like case notes and handover of rosters [to benefit from AI]. That takes time and we can use generative AI to do that, reducing handover processes to potentially five minutes,” he said.

“We will have employees who can spend more time with our customers, addressing regulations in regards to care minutes, and those care minutes can be uplifted.”

Philip Daffas, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of PainChek shared his experiences with not just AI, but technology in general, as something that has resulted in great outcomes for his business and care recipients. 

“[Technology] has made very important vital signs accessible to a broad group of people and allowed carers, nurses and doctors to focus on medication and treatment. The technology can do the grunt work,” Mr Daffas said.

“We use AI to pick up those very complex facial expressions of pain which is very hard for a nurse and carer to pick up. It’s a combination of artificial intelligence and human intelligence to provide a better, more objective pain assessment result and a better care treatment.”

Embrace AI, but tread carefully

There is often a sense of hesitation where new technology is concerned. Not only are staff and executives often reluctant to try something new, but in the modern world, there are also concerns about data safety and cyber security. 

For this reason, Rod Nirens, President at Emmy Monash and the Victorian Health Director at Microsoft, said providers need to tread carefully. He warned about the quality of data AI produces plus its security and governance.

“When you think about what we’re dealing with in the aged care sector, we’re dealing with patient or resident records which are probably the most valuable asset we would have under our management. We need to be very careful as that should be managed correctly,” Mr Nirens said.

Rod Nirens, President at Emmy Monash; Victorian Health Director at Microsoft. [Source: LinkedIn]

“Training is vitally important if we want to use these tools they need to be used effectively, safely and responsibly. If we don’t invest in time to ensure that the tools are used safely then we’re opening up to a much worse situation than you could imagine.”

With warnings to tread carefully around AI adoption and use, both Mr Dome and Mr Nirens offered advice to help providers start their journey. 

Six tips for success from Rod Nirens

  • Inclusiveness: “Let’s make sure this technology is suitable for all users and those who benefit from the service.”
  • Accountability: “We’re owning up to what we’re doing.”
  • Reliability and safety: “It is a given.”
  • Fairness: “So we’re not having any bias in the technology.”
  • Transparency: “If we are audited we can demonstrate this is fair and reasonable.”
  • Privacy and security: “We need to accept we will make mistakes as long as they’re controlled mistakes in a controlled environment, it’s okay to learn from that.”

Mr Dome expanded on his experience at Uniting NSW.ACT where U-Chat began as a simple use case. Among the many opportunities for AI, which he said include note dictation, translation, care planning and risk management, he said they focused on just one issue to begin.

“We got the use case, we canvassed the use case from the aged care sector and they told us what they wanted. We created the U-chat version and showed this to the executives. We got the absolute buy-in from them because they could see the value,” he said.

“After that demo one of them came up to me and said, ‘You’ve just opened my mind up because I can see so many other applications and use cases that we can now build on using this’. If your execs are championing it then everything else will follow from there.”

The full webinar recording will be available on the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission’s website and Youtube channel in the coming days.

uniting NSW.ACT
artificial intelligence
workforce efficiency
Rod Nirens
Andrew Dome
Philip Daffas
generative AI